TMC Tripura
Sushmita Dev met TMC national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee on joining the party on August 16

Silchar: Would it be fair to say that the exit of Sushmita Dev, one of the tallest figures of the Congress party in Assam, was a surprise?

In some ways, yes. Dev had a three-decade-long association with the Grand Old Party, and it would be fair to say that she was born in the Congress ethos. Her father, Santosh Mohan Dev, was a Congress leader for life who represented Silchar and had the unique distinction of representing two constituencies from two different states: Assam and Tripura. When seen from this angle, Sushmita Dev’s resignation becomes both intriguing and indicative.

The news of her quitting the Congress party broke Monday morning, and hours later, even as political conversations picked pace over her next move, Dev ended speculations the same day by joining Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC).

Sushmita Dev’s father, remember, represented both Assam and Tripura, and it would not be wrong to say that now Sushmita also has Tripura firmly in sight.

In the past few weeks, Trinamool Congress, which has technically existed in Tripura for more than two decades but has a minuscule presence, has upped the ante in the state. The visit of Abhishek Banerjee, the attack on TMC leaders and party workers, and the never-ending allegations and counter-allegations between the TMC and the BJP in Tripura showed that the TMC finally had a presence in the state.

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Dev knows this, Mamata Banerjee knows this, and now, other parties know this too: the TMC aims to connect and improve its presence and performance from Silchar to Agartala, and for that, they could not have got a better person than Sushmita Dev.

But first, we need to understand the impact of Dev’s resignation from the Congress. “The party will definitely feel a blow following her resignation. She was a staunch loyalist and believer in the ideology of the Congress. Her deserting has left us stupefied. We still request her to return if possible,” Tamal Kanti Banik, ex-chairman of Silchar Municipal Board, who was considered to be from Sushmita’s faction of the party, told EastMojo.

While Dev’s move came in August, many experts believe this was a long time coming. According to sources, Dev was disgruntled with the Congress party and had been observing TMC’s plans to make their way into the North East.

Her tiff with state Congress leadership widened after the central NDA government brought the Citizenship Amendment Act. While the party’s state and the central leadership batted against the motion, Dev supported the bill (not fully), reasoning that the partition victims from erstwhile East Pakistan needed legal protection and citizenship in India.

Apart from this, Dev was also unhappy with the Congress leadership over the decision to tie up with the AIUDF in the April-May Assam election and choice of poll candidates. She almost quit in March but was persuaded by Rahul Gandhi to stay.

Of course, her rivals are not impressed by her move. “Sushmita Dev has lost her base in Barak Valley. She does not enjoy the support that once used to be in her favour. Her change of party will not have any impact on the political situation of Assam, neither the arrival of a new party,” believes a Cachar BJP insider.

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The TMC’s expansion to the northeast triggers the sense that Dev might be given an important position in the northeast. If gone through the buzz, TMC has also secured a Rajya Sabha MP seat from West Bengal for the defected leader, which will further strengthen her base to work for the party.

But for Dev, the writing was on the wall. The Mahila Congress position did give her a national outlook, but it was of no use to her politically as her base had declined in her bastion. Moreover, out of power for more than six years and eyeing the no scope of her political career in Assam, the move may be her last trick.

What remains to be explored is how Sushmita Dev will survive a party that openly debated against the Citizenship Amendment Act that Dev supported, though not in “current form”. Also, the sentiment in the Barak Valley and a large part of Tripura, which are dominated by Bengali-speaking population, are entirely in favour of the CAA as many immigrants from East Bengal are settled there. The TMC’s stand does not seem to have melted on the issue.

The former MP’s Twitter handle was also recently suspended by the microblogging site for violating its policy. The move came after Twitter blocked former Congress president Rahul Gandhi for posting a photograph of the parents of a nine-year-old girl who was allegedly raped and murdered in Delhi. In defiance, Dev and several other prominent Congress leaders changed their display picture to Gandhi’s and shared the same photograph.

But now, she does not have to worry about sharing images with, or from, Rahul Gandhi. For the foreseeable future, her phone will now have Didi on speed dial.

Also Read | TMC eyes Tripura polls; rivals ask if it can make inroads

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